Director: John R. Leonetti

Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Ward Horton, Alfre Woodard and Tony Amendola

Studio: New Line Cinema

Running Time: 1 Hr, 38 Min.

Rated: 14A

If your expecting gore or an orgy of CGI effects, you will be sadly disappointed in Annaelle, but if decently crafted horror movies that rely on slowly building tension and nicely managed suspense, then Annabelle (the prequel to James Wan’s 2013 hit The Conjuring) is probably a nice fit for your movie-going experience.

It’s the early seventies and John and Mia Form (Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis) are expecting their first child. Mia is also a connoisseur of vintage dolls and is delighted when John finds the perfect addition for Mia’s growing collection. But everything goes to hell (quite literally) after the Forms neighbours are brutally victimized by satanic cultists. Mia and John are forced to move but they’re followed by whatever dark force that has been unleashed and their young family finds itself stalked by a shadowy malevolence with evil and malicious intent.

Nobody is going to remember this for the acting as the performers are virtual no ones. I only recognized one or two faces in the entire movie. No, the most memorable face in Annabelle is that of the titular doll, who was a prominent figure in last summer’s The Conjuring (Annabelle is a demonically possessed doll held prisoner by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorrain Warren until it’s almost freed as an act of vengeance by a malevolent force the Warrens find themselves battling in Rhode Island). The doll is a genuinely creepy prop that grows more and more grotesque as the movie progresses. The true star of the film though is director John R. Leonetti, who watched his fair share of Alfred Hitchcock in film school. Like The Conjuring and the two Insidious movies, Annabelle doesn’t throw millions of dollars of special effects on the screen in hopes that they manage to manufacture a scare or two (Annabelle was shot with a relatively anemic budget of five million dollars), rather it relies on the skill of an adept director to build he audience’s tension and then release it at unexpected intervals. Leonetti uses music (both its presence and its absence) well to build a scary tone (most of the music is identical to other Wan directed/related horror flicks, creating a self contained horror universe for the film makers to play in), and then executes it with polished cut scenes and movement at the edge of the shot. What results is a decent little horror flick that will inspire a genuine jump or two. It’s a formula that was introduced in the original Insidious and then perfected in The Conjuring, and while I wouldn’t rank Annabelle as highly as those two films, it’s still an efficient little effort.

Annabelle isn’t without its warts; much of the story is borrowed from other well-heeled classics and it has its fair share of horror clichés (the absent, mildly disbelieving husband for starters) and a few of the plot points go nowhere (the neighbor kids for instance). But all in all Annabelle is a nice little movie that will get you in the Hallowe’en spirit, and it’ll probably keep you from looking at antique dolls the same way again (seriously, she does get pretty creeptastic by the end).

Shayne Kempton


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